For those skeptical of gimmicky trends, the phrase “dry-hopped wine” may strike fear. Is nothing sacred?
“It’s really stepping on our toes, because rosé is a big cash crop for us in the wine industry, so I took it kind of personally,” says Neely, a Willamette Valley-based winemaker. He turned to his cellar mate with a challenge: “What if we join their hops arms race?”
They decided to embrace dry-hopping, a process familiar to many brewers. It entails adding hops during or after the fermentation process, often at cooler temperatures. Dry hopping harnesses the complex aromatics of hops and imparts less of their trademark bitterness.
“I was kind of enamored with the energy behind craft beer fanatics.”—Andrew Jones, winemaker, Field Recordings
For Neely, inspiration and necessity arrived simultaneously. Faced with a particularly flabby Sémillon vintage, he hoped to save the batch through aromatization. He incorporated Mosaic and Citra hops to introduce “that added oomph it really needed,” says Neely.
The resulting wine is called Hopped Up on Goofballs, a nod to the beer world’s penchant for puns. Its hops provide tropical notes, not piney ones. He built the 2020 iteration on a Riesling base, but the results are similar. It’s “a wine with just slamming aromatics,” says Neely.
Libertine joins a growing roster of wineries that are bridging this beer-wine gap. Many trace the trend to the German brewery Freigeist, which began exporting dry-hopped wines to the U.S. in 2014.
“I was kind of enamored with the energy behind craft beer fanatics,” says Andrew Jones of Field Recordings winery in Paso Robles, California. “I was like, ‘I want to try to get on these people’s radars.’ ”
Jones uses hops to add structure to a canned spritzer line called Foxie, but his biggest cult hit has been a Chardonnay-based pétillant-naturel. In it, the hops provide citrusy notes to complement the wine’s acid-forward characteristics, almost like that of sour beer.
Though Jones lets his wine sit on hops for three weeks, due to cold fermentation temperatures, he says that drinkers shouldn’t expect “that big bittering component, like the heavy triple-IPAs.” Instead, Jones compares his dry-hopped wine to an herbal white, like a Sauvignon Blanc, with herbaceous notes coming from the hops, rather than the grapes themselves.
“What if we join their hops arms race?”—Alex Neely, winemaker, Libertine Wines
At Denver’s The Infinite Monkey Theorem, winemaker Tim Carron begins with Sauvignon Blanc, which he calls “a great canvas,” for his slightly carbonated canned wine.
“That light crispness leaves space for infusing additional flavors,” says Carron. “We chose Citra hops because of the lemony citrus notes they bring, in addition to the piney bitterness that plays really well with the grassiness of Sauvignon Blanc.”
The result “is almost like a beer and a wine had a baby together,” says Carron. It combines “strong aroma and bitterness of an IPA mixed with the fruitiness of the wine layered underneath.”
These hybrids can be challenging for some people. While Jones’s big experiment at Field Recordings gained fans in markets like Kansas City, Austin, Boston and Washington D.C., it was viewed by many as “sacrilegious” back home on California’s Central Coast.
Neely faced similar pushback in Portland, where he says Hopped Up on Goofballs was “a pretty big flop.”
“I think it was just too much of a crossover,” he says. “It wasn’t beer enough for a beer store. It wasn’t wine enough for a wine store. It was like no man’s land.”
He’s found success outside the wine’s home state, especially in Seattle. There, boundary-pushing sommeliers unlocked the ideal pairing: raw seafood. “They went bananas over it,” he says.
Carron is a bit more bullish about the style’s ability to outgrow the niche market.
“We get people coming into our tasting room all the time who say, ‘I don’t really like wine, I’m a beer drinker. What do you recommend?’ ” says Carron. “Obviously, we give them the Dry Hopped Sauvignon Blanc, and it’s always a hit.”